Thursday, 2 August 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey • August 2018

 We're 50 this year!

I am very happy to tell you that Michael Ondaatje’s new book Warlight is wonderful. Full of fascinating characters and wandering off in many directions. The story seems to be a tale of secret service agents and secret wars. The sometimes unlikely narrative becomes a vehicle for Ondaatje’s lucid, sparkling writing. There is a rivalry in the book between the voice of the narrator and the voice of the author. Enjoy!

His 1992 novel, The English Patient, has just been chosen for the Golden Man Booker - the best Booker Prize winner of the past fifty years. Disregard the fact that Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children was removed from the running by one of the judges.

Long-time readers of my blog will remember that daughter Jane has been working on the Thai Burma border with the Karen Women’s Organisation for many years, 24 to be exact. There are many Karen people now living in Sydney and Perth and some country areas who will be interested in a romantic interpretation of their recent history. Charmaine Craig is the daughter of a Karen woman and an Anglo-Indian Jewish businessman who was closely involved in the setting up of the Karen Union. The book is called Miss Burma and her beautiful mother did indeed become Miss Burma. The book was longlisted for the American National Book Award for fiction. The Karen people are still struggling for independence from Burma.

Another unusual book you will find in Asian History General is Air Battle for Burma: Allied Pilots’ Fight for Supremacy by Bryn Evans, a British military history writer now living in Sydney. Historical accounts of the various battles in Burma during WWII have always taken second place, so it’s fitting that this book, taken from vivid personal accounts written by some of the pilots, is now available. Ex-airmen will also enjoy this.

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig Air Battle for Burma by Bryn Evans

Danielle Clode, a science writer from Victoria, seems to have made a leap from adventure to contemplation. Her most famous book is Voyages to the South Seas, about French explorers searching for the mysterious land that was Australia, while other titles include Killers in Eden: The Story of a Rare Partnership Between Man and Whales and Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia and Prehistoric Marine Life in Australia’s Inland Sea.

Voyages to the South Seas by Danielle Clode Killers in Eden by Danielle Clode
Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia by Danielle Clode Prehistoric Marine Life in Australia's Inland Sea

Clode is now offering a beautifully produced biography of a forgotten 20th century Australian naturalist. It is called The Wasp and the Orchid: The Remarkable Life of Australian Naturalist Edith Coleman. This suburban housewife and prolific nature writer became famous by solving the mystery of orchid pollination, which had evaded Darwin. The book includes many examples of Coleman’s lyrical nature writing and will appeal to many people happy to immerse themselves in peaceful times.

I recently had a very cosy day inside, tucked up by the heater, reading Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark by Alan Taylor, a journalist and well-known literary figure in Scotland – deputy editor of The Scotsman, managing editor of Scotsman Publications and on all sorts of judging panels and committees. This is a terrific little book, 173 pages. If you’re one of the many people who loved Muriel Spark’s books, this is a charming introduction to some of the 22 books she published, now being reissued by Polygon Books to celebrate 100 years since her birth.

Coming out between November 2017 and September 2018, these are small hardbacks at a very good price – about $22.99. Some are also available in paperback in Popular Penguins or Random Classics, so have a look around. I’ve been reminded of several I want to read, including The Mandelbaum Gate and The Hothouse by the East River.

Appointment in Arezzo by Alan Taylor The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark
The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Everyone remembers The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which had a famous entry to the world. For the first - and possibly last - time, the New Yorker Magazine devoted an entire issue to publish this comic and tragic story of the charismatic schoolmistress manipulating her students. This is the time when Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh both declared their admiration of her writing. This sharp and unsentimental writer was both a critical and commercial success.

Alan Taylor’s memories of their long friendship are based around visits to her home in Italy where she lived with Penelope Jardine, another Scot. He makes it very clear this was not a lesbian relationship, just a very helpful friendship. Polygon is of course a Scottish publisher. Alexander McCall Smith is another of their published authors.

Now that Abbey’s is fifty years old, you may be interested to read some of our history in the booklet we published when we turned forty. Find Forty Memories at About Abbey’s on our website.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey • June 2018

 We're 50 this year!

The National Library of Australia in Canberra has a fascinating exhibition on until July 28th. It is called 1968: Changing Times. All about that exciting year when so many important things were happening throughout the world. And what else was happening in 1968? Well in Sydney, the first Abbey’s Bookshop opened at 115 Pitt Street. We’ve had all sorts of bookshops over the past 50 years. In fact, we’ve had 10 small bookshops including City Lights Bookshop, Paddington Penguin Bookshop, a Penguin Bookshop in Rowe Street, Henry Lawson’s Bookshop and Bargain BookshopStill here are Abbey’s Bookshop, Language Book Centre and Galaxy Bookshop, all now together on two floors at 131 York Street. 

On the relevant birthdays, we gave customers 21%, 25% and 30% discount, but at forty years that got a bit difficult so we decided to publish a small book called Forty Memories. (Ed. – And keep your eyes peeled for our '50% OFF!' specials throughout 2018)

Peter Carey

If you were not a customer then and would like to indulgein some bookshop nostalgia, you can find Forty Memories on our website (just click on About Us on our homepage). 80 pages in total but you can just dip in and read as much as you like. The first 19 pages by me describe the history of the bookshop and its various addresses, then four pages from our dearly beloved Peter Milne about his special interest in Crime fiction, then 43 pages of memories about shopping at Abbeys written by customers, family and staff, including photographs. Finally there are lists of Forty Favourite Books as chosen by Eve Abbey, Jean Abbey, Ann Leahy, Lindy Jones, Greg Waldron and Peter Milne. It is very interesting to look at these choices ten years later.

We no longer mail out the monthly Abbey’s Advocate or Crime Chronicle newsletters. Instead you can subscribe for free to receive these by email (from the link at the top of our homepage). You will receive a monthly listing of New Titles and Specials, plus personal reviews from our booksellers, as well as quick access to our amazing database. Browsing through Abbey’s website is almost like the Saturday papers turning up on your doorstep every day. You can check for recent prize-winners and click for immediate access to Galaxy or Language Book Centre databases or check on particular publishers.

A box on the homepage allows you to quickly see all the Penguin Black Classics – all 658 in total and 371 currently in stock on our shelves. You can see photographs and videos of lots of local (and some overseas) authors taken when they visited Abbey’s to sign their latest books. Plus all sorts of current information. If it all gets too much, just come and visit us in-store instead.

Language Book Centre’s homepage is currently promoting A 18ans l’impossible: Mon Journal de Mai 68 (At 18 We Demand the Impossible: My Diary of May 68), set in Paris at the time of the 1968 university protests. This is the fictional diary of 18-year-old Madeleine, just beginning her studies at the Sorbonne, followed by historical notes on this important moment in French history. The author Adeline Regnault didn’t have far to travel for her author photo in front of the shop - she works upstairs in Language Book Centre.

Gail Jones is one of Australia’s finest writers, yet not as well-known as she should be. Her books are beautifully written, serious and always interesting. Her new book The Death of Noah Glass might be called a bit of a mystery. Certainly there is anxiety throughout the book about how Noah died, but all the loose ends are tied up neatly. Noah is an elderly art historian who has been in Palermo studying his favourite painter, Piero della Francesa. He becomes romantically involved with a Professoressa who has a rather stupid plan to steal a sculpture. “Everyone does it here,” she declares. On his return to Sydney, Noah dies in the not-much-used swimming pool of his apartment. Middle-aged son Martin, an artist, sets out for Palermo to discover why and eventually his academic sister, Evie, also reaches Palermo. There is a good deal of philosophising and dissecting of paintings, cathedrals and memories. Her earlier books include Sorry, Dreams of Speaking, Five Bells and the recent admired A Guide to Berlin, which is certainly not a travel guide.

That great American writer, Philip Roth, died in May. His books include The Plot Against America (too prescient for words!), The Human Stain, The Ghost Writer, American Pastoral, Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint which is, unfortunately, his most famous book. Treat yourself and read any one of his wonderful books.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 4 May 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey • May 2018

 We're 50 this year!

I am having a bit of a kick in American History/Politics just now starting with a new book called Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life by Robert Dallek. We remember Roosevelt not only as a great President but also as a much loved and admired man with a wife who was equally admired. The author, History Professor at Boston University, has previously written, a long time ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy 1932 – 1945, as well as books about John F.Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Nixon and Kissinger. This latest book does focus more on the details of Roosevelt’s various campaigns for re-election and his mastery of consensus politics. He did, after all, serve an unprecedented four terms and died in office.

There is a new historical fiction book, not before time, about Eleanor Roosevelt and her loving relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok who became a White House fixture, known often as 'First Friend'. Franklin D. was so admired and revered by the media and by historians that no-one was willing to acknowledge this relationship, just as photographers kindly never showed Franklin’s paralysed legs. Tabloid gossip is how historians thought about Eleanor and Hick’s romance. Amy Bloom has written a fine fictionalised account of this long affair. It is called White Houses.

Remember Dickens’ (male) biographers never mentioned his mistress Nelly Ternan who remained unknown until Claire Tomalin published that terrific book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. There is an amusing remark quoted in Dallek’s book “Eleanor didn’t know how to be spontaneous – but then you can’t teach spontaneous can you?”

Prolific author Richard Aldous has written a revealing biography of the man known as Court Historian for the Kennedy years, especially for his famous book A Thousand Days, who was a brilliant writer and American historian. This is the story of an exciting intellectual life . It is called Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian. Don’t miss it. I am enjoying it now.

Daughter Jane is still working up on the Thai-Burma Border with the Karen Women’s Organisation. She is always looking for suitable material for the Personal Development School started years ago in the displaced person’s camp. Recently she asked for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 1 and 2. 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women. Lindy has already mentioned these large hardback books sitting in the treasure trove of Children's books she keeps in the far left of the shop. The books compiled by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli not only succinctly tell the story of important and famous women but the single page story is in clear simple English with a striking original illustration on each facing page. Perfect for primary school libraries or special schools.

I’ve just finished, with much pleasure, Donna Leon’s 27th book in the Commissario Brunetti series set in Venice. It is called The Temptation of Forgiveness and in it Brunetti does indeed think about advising the culprit how to avoid prosecution. Donna Leon is not losing her touch, for this is indeed a very complicated fraud and Brunetti has not been reading his Latin classics too much but he has come to acknowledge how very complicated life has become.

A few months ago a friend insisted on lending me some old DVD’s which included not only Brideshead Revisited (which I mentioned last month) but also Becket and The Lion in Winter in both of which Peter O’Toole played Henry II. I was so intriqued by these that I decided to read about Henry’s mother, the amazing Eleanor of Aquitaine who not only married the King of France(Louis VII) but also Henry II of England, was the mother of Richard the Lionheart and of King John and managed to live to eighty two when she was indeed the King Pin!

So I am reading Eleanor of Aquitaine: By The Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir. There is also a book by leading medieval historian, Desmond Seward, called Eleanor of Aquitaine: Mother Queen of the Middle Ages which I have on order.

Looking at Abbey’s website I can also see many books about Eleanor, including the trilogy written by Elizabeth Chadwick beginning The Summer Queen, then The Winter Crown and finally The Autumn Throne. Find them in Historical Fiction.

An amusing piece of trivia… I looked up Henry II who is described as red-haired, freckled, short and sturdy with bow legs from riding his horse so much. Ah yes! Just like Peter O-Toole!

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 6 April 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey • April 2018

Would you like to try a piece of really original writing? Something unusual? If so, read The Town by Shaun Prescott. This is a first novel from a short story writer and it is very successful. His work is being compared to Gerald Murnane, especially to The Plains. There is a carefully controlled voice of the narrator, a writer who has moved to a Central West country town in order to write a book about the disappearing towns of the outback. The voice is dry and flat like the surrounding countryside. Is it banal? Surely something will happen? Someone will rebel? Fatalistic for sure. The Lifted Brow is the small publisher responsible for this. Take a good look.

I’ve just finished reading Tim Winton’s deeply personal book The Boy Behind the Curtains. This is a wonderful book, brilliantly written, wise and mature. In some pieces he recalls accidents that happened to his family, in others he speaks about the landscape of Western Australia and in others he recalls the important part played by church-going in his adolescence, or a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria or the euphoria of surfing or swimming with whales or the strangeness of a winter living in the gatehouse of a derelict Irish castle.

A fine book to give to a young person just awakening to the world. These autobiographical pieces are to be savoured one at a time.

The Boy Behind the Curtain has recently won the Non-Fiction Prize at the Adelaide Festival. Tim has donated the $15,000 prize to the fund for the Ningaloo Reef, one of his environmental concerns.

Since then I have read Tim Winton’s latest book, a novel called The Shepherd’s Hut. This is a very different approach. Written in the voice of an angry, poorly educated young man who has been horribly abused by his father, it is a style I would usually not enjoy reading but there are intermittent gorgeous descriptions of the Western Australian landscape as the young man escapes from society.

He stumbles across an old man, a priest who has been, for some reason, seemingly imprisoned on the edge of the huge, beautiful salt lake. Gradually, you come to understand that this is an allegory about the painful search for peace.

Winton’s writing is never dull and always has some deeper meaning. The story will stay with you.

Fans of Julian Barnes will enjoy his latest novel The Only Story, which is the curiously unemotional tale of a long love affair between a very young man and an older married woman in the suburban wilds of Surrey, England. All very circumspect and polite. I found it odd and dispiriting but nonetheless thought-provoking.

I’ve been watching a three disc set of Evelyn Waugh’s fabulous novel Brideshead Revisited. So sad. So melancholy. But thirty or more years ago no-one rang a friend on Sunday night because everyone was watching Brideshead Revisited.

The novel was a surprise departure from the famous satirical novels he had written in the thirties and described Charles Ryder’s infatuation with an aristocratic Anglo-Catholic family. It was first published in 1945 but the Popular Penguin edition which you can buy for $12.99 (who can complain about the price of books!) has some revisions made by Waugh and his Preface to the revised edition.

After Brideshead Revisited he went on to write some of best novels of the twentieth century, using his own experience as a not very successful soldier. Officers and Gentlemen, Men at Arms and Unconditional Surrender were put into one volume in 1965 under the title Sword of Honour. There is a special edition in Penguin Modern Classics as well as a Popular Penguin edition.

At Abbey’s you can usually find the backlist titles from special authors so look out for Vile Bodies, Handful of Dust, Scoop and Put Out More Flags, all of which were first published in the thirties. Enjoy yourself.

You can also find Waugh’s Complete Short Stories 1910-1962 as well as Work Suspended and Other Stories. To complete your pleasure look for Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited by Philip Eade. And what a life! Not an especially nice man but a wonderful writer with a wicked tongue.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers